Historical Tales: 13—King Arthur - Charles Morris



Book IV
Lancelot of the Lake




How Trouble Came to Lionel and Hector

After the strange deeds and adventures that have just been described, a season of war came again to King Arthur and his realm, through which he won great honor and renown. For Lucius, the Emperor of Rome, sent ambassadors to Arthur, demanding tribute; and when he proudly refused this demand Lucius gathered a great army and invaded the tributary domains of Arthur, in Gaul.

Long and fierce was the war that followed, for Arthur crossed to Gaul with all the power of his realm; fought and killed, single-handed, a huge giant who dwelt on St. Michael's Mount; defeated the army of Rome, and killed the emperor in single combat; and in the end was crowned emperor, in the imperial city of Rome.

All this story the chronicles give at length, and tell us also that in this war the noble Lancelot du Lake, son of King Ban of Gaul, gained his first measure of renown.

After the war had ended and the victorious host returned to England, many adventures came to Lancelot, some of which we must here tell. Great indeed was the valor and might of this worthiest of knights, who in after years proved himself in knightly prowess and chivalric honor the noblest of men. In tournaments and deeds of arms, in sportive war or battle for life or death, he passed all other knights, and was never overcome but by treason or enchantment.

After Arthur's return from Rome sports and feasts were given, and jousts and tournaments held, in which the Knights of the Round Table took part, many who had gained no great fame in the war now proving themselves able and worthy warriors. But above them all Lancelot displayed such skill and prowess that he increased in honor and worship beyond any knight of Arthur's court.

And, as fortune and fate decreed, he loved Queen Guenever above all other ladies, while she held him in favor above all other knights,—a favor that was destined thereafter to bring deep sorrow and trouble to England's realm. For her sake he did many noble deeds of arms, and he was looked upon as her especial champion by all the court.

After the return from Rome Lancelot rested long at the court, taking part in all its feasts and gayeties. But in time he grew weary of sport and play, and of the idle ways and empty flatteries of courtiers, and felt a strong desire to wander abroad in search of strange adventures. So he bade his nephew, Sir Lionel, to make ready, saying to him that they two would leave the court and ride as knights-errant through the land, to right wrongs and punish crimes, to rescue the oppressed and overthrow the proud and haughty, and knightly to do and dare wherever they went.

So on a day in spring, when the summer was coming with its flowers to adorn the rich green of the grassy meads, and the birds sang gayly in the trees, the two knights armed themselves at all points and rode abroad, passing soon through a deep forest and into a verdant plain beyond.

Noon now came on, and the weather grew close and sultry, so that Lancelot became drowsy. This he told to Lionel, who pointed to a large apple-tree by a hedge, and said,—

"Yonder is a cool shadow. There we may rest ourselves and our horses till the noontide heat has passed."

"You speak to the point," said Lancelot. "Not for seven years have I been so sleepy as I am now?"

They thereupon alighted, and tied their horses to neighboring trees, and Lancelot laid himself down beneath the apple-boughs, with his helmet under his head for a pillow. Soon he was in deep slumber, though Lionel kept awake.

As they lay thus three knights came riding by in panic fear, pushing their horses to the utmost speed, while a single knight followed them in furious pursuit. So well-made and strong-limbed a man as this Lionel thought he had never seen nor one in all respects so fully armed.

As he looked, the pursuing knight overtook one of the fugitives, and with a thrust of his spear flung him prostrate to the ground. Then he served the other two in the same manner. This done, he alighted and bound the three knights with their own bridle-reins.

[Illustration] from King Arthur I by Charles Morris

DREAM OF SIR LANCELOT


When Lionel saw this, anger filled his soul, and he thought to win honor in a bout of arms with this vigorous champion, so he quietly took his horse, so as not to waken Lancelot, and rode towards the victor, loudly bidding him turn and try his fortune in a joust.

But the ambitious young knight soon found that he had let youthful pride bring him into trouble, for the strong warrior smote him so hard a blow that horse and man went together to the earth. Then the victor alighted and served Lionel as he had done the others, binding him and flinging him athwart his own horse.

He did the same with the three others, and rode away with his prisoners, until he came to a castle that lay beyond the plain. Here he forced them to remove their armor, and beat their naked skin with thorns till they were ready to swoon with the pain. Then he had them thrust into a deep prison where were many other knights, whose groans and lamentations filled the air with doleful sounds.

Through all this Lancelot slept on, nor did he waken from his slumber till another misadventure had taken place. For Sir Hector de Maris, the brother of Lionel, finding that Lancelot had left the court to seek adventures, was angry that he had not been asked to keep him company, and rode hastily after him, hoping to overtake him.

After he had ridden long in the forest he met a man dressed like a forester, and asked him if any knightly adventures could be found near by.

"Sir knight," answered the forester, "I know this country well, and can promise you all, and mayhap more, than you want. Within a mile of here is a strong manor; by that manor, on the left hand, is a fair ford for horses to drink at; over that ford there grows a spreading tree; and on that tree hang many shields which good knights once wielded. On the trunk of the tree you will see a basin of brass and copper, and if you seek an adventure you have but to strike that basin thrice with the butt of your spear. If then you do not soon hear tidings of interest, you will have the best fortune of any knight who has passed through this forest for many a long year."

"Gramercy, for your tidings," said Hector, and rode rapidly on.

Soon he came to the manor and the tree, and saw the shields of which the forester had told him, and to his surprise and grief he noted among them the shield of his brother Lionel, and many more that he knew belonged to Round Table knights. Then, with a heart full of thoughts of revenge, he beat upon the basin roundly with his spear, until its clang rung far and wide. This done, he turned his horse and let him drink at the ford.

As he stood there he heard a loud voice behind him, bidding him come out of the water and make ready, and looking round he beheld a powerfully-built knight on a strong horse.

Hector wheeled his horse sharply, and putting his spear in rest rode furiously upon this knight, striking him so fierce a blow that his horse turned twice around.

"Well done," said the stranger. "That was a knightly blow. But beware, it is my turn now."

As he spoke he spurred his horse at full speed upon Hector, and struck him so skilfully that the spear-head passed under his right arm and bore him clear of the saddle into the air. Then, carrying the knight like a trussed hare on his spear, the victor rode onward into his own open hall, and flung his captive down in the middle of the floor.

"You have done more to me than any knight has done for twelve years past," said the victor, whose name was Sir Turquine. "Therefore I will grant you your life and the liberty of the castle, but you must swear to be my prisoner until death."

"That will I never promise," said Hector. "I will remain captive to no man if I can free myself."

"Then I shall take care that you do not escape," said Turquine.

With these words he made Hector, on pain of death, remove his armor, and then scourged him with thorns as he had done the others, and flung him into the prison where lay so many of his fellows.

When Hector saw his brother Lionel among these his heart was ready to break with sorrow.

"What has happened to Lancelot?" he demanded. "You rode with him, and here you are a prisoner. Alas! tell me not that any harm has come to him."

"Where he is and what he does I cannot tell," said Lionel. "I left him asleep under an apple-tree and rode alone on this dolorous venture. Would that I had wakened him first."

"Alas!" cried the knights, "we may never be delivered unless Lancelot comes to our aid. Of all knights living we know none but him who is a fair match for Turquine, our robber lord."